ZURICH (Reuters) – The new chief executive of Switzerland’s Breitling watch company said he has ended advertisements with some featuring women in shorts and flight suits catering to pilots of World War II-era fighter planes on grounds they were inappropriate.
Some of the ads portrayed women acting as ground support for male pilots flying P-51 Mustang airplanes.
CEO Georges Kern, who took over the Grenchen-based timepiece maker last year after switching from luxury goods maker Richemont (CFR.S), told the SonntagsZeitung in an interview that he intervened after finding complaint letters from people concerned about the ads’ portrayal of women.
“I stopped them immediately,” Kern told the newspaper in an article that appeared on Sunday. “Some customers thought they were funny. But such clips were no longer suitable and do not reflect values of today’s society.”
Once tipped as a potential Richemont chief executive, Kern left for Breitling abruptly in July 2017 just four months after taking over as head of Richemont’s watchmaking division.
New Breitling advertisements will start in May, he said, adding he planned to keep Breitling’s airplane theme, including with the company’s jet team, to maintain the watch’s appeal with the aviation community.
But he also hopes to highlight Breitling’s broader appeal — it once sponsored the Tour de France cycling race, for instance — to boost annual sales of around 430 million Swiss francs ($457.50 million) now.
Kern said he was not sure how long buyout firm CVC [CVC.UL] would keep its 80 percent stake in the company.
“Breitling has many loyal customers and we grew during the past two very difficult years for the watch industry,” he said. “We are not a restructuring case. The company is very profitable.”
Kern did not give profit figures.
($1 = 0.9399 Swiss francs)
Reporting by John Miller, editing by David Evans